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Having a ball with the Hall

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Posted: Wednesday May 03, 2000 05:58 PM


To send a question to Tom Verducci's Mailbag, click here.

I love Hall of Fame questions. I'm one of the privileged people with a vote, and I love discussing the merits of players as a way to get other people's opinions and impressions. I take the responsibility very seriously and I admit to being on the tough side. A Hall of Fame voter should be demanding. We're talking about the greatest players ever, not just the many very good players or our favorite players. Overall, the writers have done a fantastic job. (You can't say the same for the Veterans Committee.) You could say the writers never have voted in a player who shouldn't be there, though the recent elections of borderline candidates Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Tony Perez are opening doors to many other players who previously might not have been so fortunate with the voting writers.

This week's 'bag starts off with a couple of Cooperstown-quality questions, and moves on to teams such as the Tigers, Royals, Braves and Expos as well as the usual potpourri of original questions for which you gentle readers are famous.

I've been a Mark Grace fan ever since he came up to the majors in the late '80s. What are his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame? He led all players in the '90s in hits.
-- Mike Ohda, Pleasant Hill, Calif.

Well, yes, and Jack Morris led all pitchers in wins in the 1980s and nobody's minting a plaque for him in Cooperstown. Those are artificial standards. Why penalize a guy, for instance, who started playing in 1992? Grace has been a splendid, consistent player for the Cubs and a real ambassador of the game. He's one of my favorites. But I must be objective. I give him the same chance of getting into the Hall of Fame as he has 100-RBI seasons, 200-hit seasons, 20-homer seasons or 100-walk seasons: zero. Those aren't exactly Ruthian standards, and Grace never reached any of them.

Why has Dale Murphy not received the recognition he so richly deserves from the "experts" who vote for the Hall of Fame? He hit 398 home runs over his career, was a two-time MVP, a Silver Slugger award winner, played in 790 consecutive games and was a Gold Glove winner. Oh yeah, and he carried the Braves for the entire decade of the '80's. He only made it to the playoffs once or twice but that was due to the pathetic pitching that the Braves had then. If Dale Murphy does not make it into the Hall of Fame it should become the HALL OF SHAME.
-- Thomas Spriggs, Ft. Sill, Okla.

Here we go again. Another fan favorite who just doesn't have the numbers for the Hall. Murph was a lifetime .265 hitter (way too low for the Hall). His career just bottomed out after 1987, when he was 31. He most definitely was on the Hall of Fame track at that point, but never again hit better than .266 or more than 25 home runs or 85 RBIs. He had six exceptional years -- far too few to be considered among the greatest to ever play the game. You can apply the same argument to Don Mattingly.

Everyone is comparing Pedro Martinez to Sandy Koufax ... what about Randy Johnson? Would I take Martinez over Johnson? YES. But Randy keeps proving me wrong. How does Johnson compare to Koufax?
-- Rob Nelson, Kingsport, Tenn.

Hope you bought your SI this week for a detailed look at the Unit. In short form, Johnson deserves to be mentioned alongside Koufax just on the basis of their career numbers and their prime years (for Koufax, 1961-66; for Johnson, 1993-00).


Koufax 165-87 2.76 2324.1 2,396
Johnson 165-88 3.21 2299.1 2,757

Koufax 129-47 2.19 1632.2 1,713
Johnson 117-40 2.80 1481.1 1,897

Of course, give Koufax a huge advantage in postseason play.

Who will close for the Royals if Ricky Bottalico continues to struggle? Do you think Bottalico's job is in serious jeopardy at this time, or does he have a couple of life-lines left?
-- Jay, Tallahassee, Fla.

The closer of the future is Dan Reichert, and the future is fast approaching. Reichert has closer's stuff, but was used almost exclusively as a starter in the minors (9-2 last season in 17 starts with Omaha in the PCL, where he struck out 123 in 111 2/3 innings). You may think the Royals would like to see him get comfortable with experience coming out of the pen, but look what happened with Toronto's Billy Koch. He converted to a closer on the big-league level and was awesome. Look for Reichert to get more and more save chances as the year goes on.

Now that the Royals' hot streak is long over and their fans have once again been reminded of how bad their pitching is, what is your forecast for them over the next few years? Do you see any change in strategy or direction for them now that they have a real owner? Also, Royals fans have long considered Kauffman Stadium a beautiful place to play baseball -- how does it compare to all of the newer stadiums, and what is the general feeling about it around the league?
-- A. Bohrer, Wake Forest, N.C.

Be patient with the young pitchers. Reichert, Jeff Austin, Chad Durbin and Chris Fussell just aren't ready yet, but they're getting crash courses in how to pitch. The future looks good. It's especially nice to see the ownership situation settled and George Brett having an active role. I will say it's time somebody took a long, hard look at how Herk Robinson has remained on the job so long. Most GMs I talk to say he's one of the most difficult GMs in the business to deal with because he grossly overvalues his players out of fear of making a mistake. He lost Tim Belcher, Jose Offerman and Dean Palmer to free agency without getting players back, and I hope he doesn't let the same happen to Johnny Damon. Their ballpark still is one of the most pleasant places in baseball. It doesn't have that old-fashioned feel to it, but the sightlines are good, the fountains in the outfield are cool and the crowds are ceaselessly polite. They don't need a new ballpark.

Do you think in the modern game any player will win the Triple Crown, and if yes, who?
-- Adam Samuelson, Montreal

I don't like saying never because it's not an impossibility. It can happen. Is it likely? No way. But here are the guys I believe have a real shot at getting it done one year: Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and, to lesser extents, Larry Walker and Mike Piazza.

How long before Phil Garner gets fired? How long will they stick with a man who's only shown the ability to get into fights with White Sox?
-- Tim, Madison, Wisc.

You wouldn't happen to be a disgruntled Brewers fan, would you? Anyway, Garner has a four-year deal. The Tigers aren't about to eat that contract after one month of employment. Right now Randy Smith, the GM, is on a shorter rope than Garner. But rest assured that Garner won't get a long honeymoon in Detroit. The Tigers have spent some money, so the pressure is higher than what he faced in Milwaukee. Is he a good manager? I really don't know. It's hard to judge anybody in a small market, so give him at least into next season before you begin to get a true evaluation of what kind of skipper he is. I will say this, though: he's got a little bit of Bobby Valentine in him. Teams love to beat him. And what was he thinking accusing Major League Baseball of a conspiracy against the Tigers? Outrageous.

Which team do you think will be the first team to write the season off and rebuild by dumping salaries for young talent? Tigers? Devil Rays? Marlins? Cubs?
-- Taylor Cumming, Penticton, British Colombia

The Tigers need a heart transplant, so anybody there is fair game. The Devil Rays need to unload some of their slo-pitch softball guys because they're going to the NL next year. But of all the teams who should start moving players to get younger, I would pick the Cubs. They are way too old, slow and dull for a team that can't contend this year or next.

What is the definition of the "player to be named" in trades? Is there a list of players the traded player's team gets to choose from? Is the player to be named dependent on the "traded" player's performance? I am a long-time baseball player (still play hardball at 53), coach and umpire of high school and sandlot baseball, and I have never seen this defined.
-- Wayne Faas, Fletcher, N.C.

Teams often agree on exactly who that player is, but for purposes of clearing roster space, often wait to complete the deal. (This happened with John Halama in the Randy Johnson deal last year.) Sometimes clubs will agree on a list of, say, three or four players, and the team can essentially defer their choice. (This happened with the Yankees choosing young pitchers from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu deal.) There are some rules about these deals. I believe a player to be named cannot be on the 25-man major league roster. Of course, the greatest PTBN trade was Harry Chiti once being traded for himself (from the Indians) to the Mets as the PTBN in his own deal. And remember, folks (and editors), "player to be named later " is redundant.

Tom, I am a huge Braves fan, but I don't see them making any moves to build their team up to the standard it needs to be to win a championship. I mean Rafael Furcal has been a great addition, adding speed and raw talent to a veteran lineup. However, why do you think the Braves keep going after the old (Wally Joyner and Walt Weiss), the slow (Bobby Bonilla) and the downright futile (Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras), Instead of keeping young talents like Jermaine Dye, George Lombard, and Gerald Williams? There are some players who may actually make a difference come playoff time. No disrespect to Chipper Jones or Andruw Jones, but they are not exactly guys to build a franchise around.
-- Kasey Cubbage, Athens, Ga.

I can't even consider this question while the Braves are ripping off 15 wins in a row and are favored to win their ninth straight division title. Be thankful you're not a baseball fan in Milwaukee.

In last week's 'bag, a guy from Saskatchewan stated that Montreal's population isn't into the team. Dead wrong. The Expos are a hit here. People love them. If you're downtown at lunch time, you hear people talking about them and reading the baseball section in the paper. Why don't people show up? Have you ever been to the Big O? They hand out paper bags in the corridor in case the sight becomes too disturbing. Have you ever been to Montreal in the spring and summer? It is too nice a city to spend the nights cooked up inside the Big O. I am a student and a full-time worker in the summer but I find the time to attend about 15 games a year, mostly on weekends and special attractions (Blue Jays, Big Mac etc). If they build it, we will come. And Tom, NO ROOF. Build it to deal with the weather some other way. Put on a roof and it might as well be the Big O2!
-- Adam, Montreal

As I'm writing this e-mail, Vlad was hit by a pitch with first base open ... now that's fear! With all due respect, Montreal has great baseball fans. People forget that Jackie Robinson began his professional career with the Montreal Royals in the '40's. No other baseball team has gone through so much adversity in so few years. We had the best team in baseball before the strike destroyed our World Series hopes. If you remember, we were averaging about 30,000 a game. People always talk about attendance problems in Montreal. What about Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Kansas City ... Do you still believe Montreal is not a baseball city?
-- Louie Palermo, Montreal

Hi, don't you think the media tends to be a little hard on Montreal? Don't forget all the fire sales we've had in Montreal -- the fans used to go to the games when we had a winning team. Jeffrey Loria has to be patient. When the Expos are still winning in May and June, the fans will be there ... and by the way, Philadelphia, Florida, Pittsburgh and other American cities aren't drawing that well in April, either.
-- Bryan, Montreal

Some points on Montreal:

  • The Expos averaged 23,000 fans with that exciting 1994 team, not 30,000. They drew 2.3 million people in 1982 and 1983, so there is some hope.

  • They absolutely must have a roof -- one that is retractable and actually works. (Believe me, other teams have found a way.)

  • I stayed in downtown Montreal for a few days two weeks ago. I could count on one hand the number of people I saw wearing Expos hats. In fact, I saw more Expos hats when I visited Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in January than in Montreal in April.

  • The Big O gets a bad rap. The place is much better than it used to be, without the Olympic running track and the construction site beyond centerfield. I can see how summer indoors is a problem. (See Mariners, Seattle.)

  • The nightly local sports report is overloaded with hockey before they finally get around to baseball. Baseball just isn't the top priority there.

  • I'm rooting for Montreal to make it. I think they have a chance with a downtown stadium. Hey, Pittsburgh has pulled it off. If Montreal is such a great (though sleeping) baseball town, it will support a stadium the way Pittsburgh did. If not -- and I believe it's fine if the populace doesn't want to bankroll rich people's hobbies -- then au revoir.

    How can you at SI put Kerry Wood on the 25-and-under list when the guy has not proven any durability or any capability of winning beyond being a hard thrower? Need I remind you that there is a pitcher aged 25 out there named Kevin Millwood who has shown an ability to pitch -- not just throw -- and has demonstrated it across two full seasons.
    -- Jeff Ralston, Loganville, Ga.

    That's a legitimate beef. That was one of my toughest calls, the righthanded pitcher. You have Wood, Millwood, Freddy Garcia and Kris Benson. (Some scouts actually picked Benson on pure stuff.) Here's why I picked Wood: he's already been a No. 1 starter and every indication has been that he's physically fine and in short time will get back to where he was. I disagree with your criticism about Wood not having "any capability of winning." This guy is a fierce competitor and was a major reason why an ordinary Cubs team became a playoff team. I won't knock Millwood. He's a fine pick, too. I just believe Wood is one of those special pitchers who on any given night is capable of doing something historic.

    Do you feel the designated hitter will ever be abolished or is the MLB Players' Association too strong?
    -- Larry Cervasio, Nutley, N.J.

    Write to your congressman. Scream out your window. Start a chain letter. IT'S TIME TO GET RID OF THE DH! Does anybody think the National League, which doesn't use the DH, is hurting for offense? Is NL baseball boring? Uneventful? Please. It's by far the better league and the majority of players will tell you that. It's the only sport that makes concessions for players when they can't play anymore. Unfortunately, you know as well I, Larry, that the union is too strong -- that means GREEDY. It's strictly a money issue, and don't let them fool you when they say they care about extending the careers of people such as Harold Baines. Some owners would love to get rid of it, but not the extent that they would shut down the game over the DH. So the union knows they'll never have to give it up at the bargaining table. Bud Selig has done a great job as commissioner. But if he ever finds a way to get rid of the DH he ought to be nominated for knighthood, sainthood and president in one fell swoop.

    Speaking of under appreciated players like Vladimir Guerrero (a topic discussed in last week's mailbag), why isn't the Anaheim's Darin Erstad receiving any attention for the great season he's having? I mean, the guy's leading the majors in batting average and on-base percentage -- but not many people seem to acknowledge his talent.
    -- Steve Staudenmayer, Upland, Calif.

    Well, 48 hits in April ought to get you noticed. Unfortunately, Erstad isn't a big home run hitter, and too many people who follow this game are enamored with what's become the lowest common denominators of baseball: home runs and strikeouts. Erstad nearly made my 25-and-under team, barely missing out to Carlos Beltran. But I did have one scout tell me, after saying Erstad-Beltran was a flip of the coin, that he'd lean toward Erstad because he believes he's going to develop into a solid 25-30 home run guy.

    Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci will contribute weekly Baseball Mailbags to all season. To send a question, click here.

    The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.

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